Gov. John Bel Edwards’ damage assessment tour Monday showed how south Louisiana largely avoided the wrath of Hurricane Barry.
Aside from morale-draining power outages — nearly one third of Morgan City and the rest of St. Mary Parish remained without power Monday — much of the news was upbeat even in the three coastal parishes Edwards visited: St. Mary, Plaquemines and Terrebonne.
While half a dozen "back levees" – berms back of town that protect from rising water in swamps – were compromised in lower Plaquemines Parish, the key north-south corridor — La. Hwy. 23 — remained open throughout the storm.
Most of the second-tier levees that had problems were undergoing construction for improvements, Edwards said.
In Terrebonne Parish, a nine-foot storm surge was well above predictions.
"They were expecting four to six feet," Edwards said during a stop in Gray, about 15 miles north of Houma. "They got nine feet."
"There was more storm surge from Barry than there was from Rita and Ike," the governor said, a reference to previous damaging storms.
At one point nearly one of out four Terrebonne Parish residents – about 25,000 customers – were without power, officials said. However, only 11 buildings in the parish suffered damages.
Gordon Dove, president of the parish and a former state lawmaker, said about 13,000 residents lacked electricity Monday.
"The city of Houma got power running pretty quickly," Dove said.
The seven-hour snapshot of the three coastal parishes dovetails with the message since Sunday – formerly Tropical Storm Barry, and briefly Hurricane Barry on Saturday, failed to deliver the punch weather forecasters predicted.
Tropical Storm Barry had all but left the Baton Rouge region by Sunday as a storm that paled in comparison to forecasters’ predictions of swol…
"We were very lucky," Edwards said during a stop in Franklin.
A weakening Tropical Storm Barry may end up dumping only six to 10 inches of rain on the Baton Rouge area, far less than first thought, foreca…
"We were expecting 20 inches of rain," he said. "I like to say we are a faithful people and prayer had a lot to do with that."
However, while Baton Rouge and New Orleans largely escaped major problems St. Mary Parish took the brunt of the hit Saturday.
"I tell you what, it's been tough," said David Hanagriff, St. Mary Parish president. "This was not a normal storm by any means."
Parish officials initially braced for a rain event.
The eastern end of the parish fared well early on.
"Saturday evening, Saturday night, everything went kind of crazy," Hanagriff said.
Levee problems developed.
Numerous evacuations and high-water rescues were launched.
"All happening in five or six hours," he said.
At one point 95 percent of the parish lacked electricity.
Even Monday numerous stores in Franklin and elsewhere remained closed.
"Power now is the big issue," Hanagriff said.
More than one in four residents of nearby Iberia Parish lacked power Monday, said state Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin and former mayor of Franklin.
The governor said at each stop that previous hurricane-protection efforts paid off.
In the past, Edwards said, "hundreds" of homes would have taken on water in St. Mary Parish for a storm like Barry.
Instead about 10 did so.
The lack of major damages from Hurricane Barry even allowed for some political bickering.
During the governor's stop in the Plaquemines Parish town of Myrtle Grove to view damaged "back levees," Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser complained that more levee protection should have been in place.
Nungesser, who lives in nearby Port Sulphur in far southeast Louisiana, said two sections of levees already authorized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers remain undone because of political spats. "It is local politics," he said.
The governor said 900,000 sandbags were distributed before the storm.
"Never in our history have we done that," Edwards said. "The people of Louisiana took this storm seriously."